4 myths about sleep that aren’t helping anyone
If there’s one thing we can’t get enough of, it’s sleep.
We know we need it and we all want more or better. So it’s no surprise that myths about sleep are everywhere.
All these myths do is add to the anxiety around your nightly slumber, and anxiety is the enemy of quality rest. From rules about hours to the blue light sleep myth, we’re about to do some busting.
Myth 1: We all need 8 hours’ sleep
If you’re sleeping with one eye open because you’re worried about getting 7.5 hours instead of 8, it’s time to let yourself off the hook. When it comes to how much sleep is enough, there is no magic number. Between 7 and 9 hours appears to be the ideal for most adults, but it will vary from person to person.
Hanging everything on the 8-hour myth can lead to anxiety about sleep – activating your brain and actually making sleep more difficult.
If you’re feeling well-rested and don’t have symptoms of excessive sleepiness (or cans of energy drink littering your desk), whatever amount of sleep you are getting is probably enough.
If you feel like you could use a little more, instead of striving for a certain number of hours, get curious about your sleep needs. You might ask yourself:
How much sleep do I get when I’m on vacation?
How much sleep have I had when I’m reaching for multiple cups of coffee?
Am I regularly ‘crashing’ in the afternoon?
How often do I hit the snooze button?
You don’t need to try to overhaul your routine overnight. Road test a few tweaks, like starting your bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier or using a Power Sleep meditation, and pay attention to how those changes impact your nightly rest and make you feel.
Need some help resting smarter and rising stronger? Try our series Power Sleep with Chris Hemsworth to find audio that works for you.
Myth 2: It’s bad to fall asleep to sounds
White noise, music, talking, whale song… Sound is one of the most natural and effective ways to induce a meditative state, so it makes sense that many people find it effective as a sleep aid.
But there’s also a myth that sound is counter-productive, because while it might help you fall asleep, the ongoing noise will disrupt your overall sleep quality – perhaps even getting less deep or REM sleep.
While it’s true that certain sounds – like a baby crying or smoke alarms going off – are highly likely to jolt you awake, not all sound is created equal.
A review of multiple studies found no evidence that common sounds used to aid sleep (like natural soundscapes, white, pink or brown noise, or slow wave music) are disruptive to overall sleep quality.
So if you swear by a soundscape or podcast to get to sleep, there’s no need to switch off. In fact, we’ve used a number of sound effects in the new Power Sleep series, to ensure there’s something for every kind of sleeper.
Myth 3: For better sleep, go to bed earlier
At some point, we’ve all been told that the simple solution for tiredness is to “go to bed earlier”. But if you’re not actually sleepy, going to bed too early can cause more problems than it fixes.
You can’t make yourself fall asleep simply by going to bed. Reality check: you’re more likely to lay there and worry about not sleeping – “How will I do that very important thing tomorrow if I can’t get any sleep?!” And because this overthinking increases your brain’s alertness, you’ll be even less likely to drift off.
Instead of setting a regular (or earlier) bedtime, focus on nailing a regular wake time. Waking up at the same time each day will give your body the consistency it needs and increase your body’s natural sleep drive.
For example, instead of sleeping in on the weekend, waking up at the same time as you would on a work day will help you to build up a natural ‘sleep debt’ throughout the day. And once you lock in that consistent wake time, you’ll probably find that you get sleepy around the same time each night anyway.
Myth 4: Blue light is destroying your sleep
Brace yourself, because we’re about to bust a big-time piece of conventional sleep wisdom.
Since everyone became glued to their smartphones and devices, blue light has got a bad rap as a destroyer of sleep. But simply think about how common it is to fall asleep in front of the TV and this myth starts to crumble away pretty quickly.
As psychologist Nick Wignall puts it: “The actual effect of blue light exposure on objective sleep quality and duration appears to be very modest – borderline insignificant.”
While it’s true that blue light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, the impact is less severe than you might think. It only takes roughly 15 minutes for melatonin return to normal levels after you switch off the blue light source, and one recent study found that blue light had no impact on self-reported sleep quality.
We’re not saying you should take your laptop to bed. Avoiding electronics is still a worthy sleep habit, because using devices keeps your mind alert and engaged and blue light does appear to have a small impact. But there’s no need to stress about quickly checking something on your phone, stop watching an hour of TV in the evening, or start wearing those expensive blue light glasses at night.
The stress and worry could have a bigger impact on your sleep than the blue light does.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have experienced sleep issues for three months or more, are facing excessive drowsiness that causes safety concerns, frequently snore loudly, or have been observed having difficulty breathing during sleep, please seek qualified medical advice. For a list of registered healthcare providers worldwide specializing in behavioral sleep medicine, please visit The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
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